Native peoples have persevered as generations of Indigenous leaders and community members worked tirelessly to protect their sovereignty, families, cultures, and homelands to provide a future for their people. Today, in tribal council chambers from northern California to Alaska, the continuum of visionary leadership and care remains intact as contemporary Indigenous leaders continue to confront the many social, cultural, environmental, and economic challenges facing their people and lands.
It can be demanding work. The complexity of issues and community needs has grown exponentially over decades. No longer small villages dispersed throughout their traditional homelands and watersheds, many tribal governments and communities are now major landowners and territorial stewards, deeply committed managers of natural resources, major drivers of local and regional economies, and providers of health care and educational opportunities for their citizens. Moreover, tribal governments contribute to the economic livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Native and non-Native households and can be effective partners on issues of local and regional significance.
“We must never neglect our rights to self-government, culture, and our spiritual values. We are the people of this land, and we stand ready to protect it in every way.”
—W. Ron Allen (Jamestown S’Klallam), ILA Awardee, 2005
Contemporary Indigenous leaders are navigating this multifaceted world with vision, hope, courage, and dedication.
The desire to recognize the determination of Native peoples and the significant achievements of visionary leadership are the reasons the ILA was created. Since 2001, the ILA have recognized 56 outstanding Indigenous leaders for their unwavering dedication to strengthen tribal sovereignty and their efforts to uplift the environmental, cultural, economic, and social conditions of their communities and homelands. Nominated by their community and selected by their peers, these Indigenous leaders come from all walks of life and represent many different tribes, First Nations, languages, cultures, and landscapes.
In spring 2022, the ILA will be returning. The call for nominations is now open.
In this 5-minute video, listen to the wisdom, hopes, and challenges of Indigenous leaders in our region.
Full awardee and honoree list
Roberta Reyes Cordero, Awardee, of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, is a cultural ambassador and conflict resolution professional. For nearly twenty years she has been actively pursuing ways to give tribal people a voice in coastal marine planning in California. Aided by her efforts, the Chumash Nation has reestablished a connection to its canoeing and seafaring roots, which has led to a resurgence of the Chumash language, the preparation of Native foods, creation of art, and a reestablishment of family connections among tribal members. Read more about Roberta’s work.
Annita McPhee is an accomplished professional and leader who has demonstrated a strong commitment to advancing the economic prosperity of her Tahltan Nation people while protecting their lands and way of life in northwestern British Columbia. Annita has negotiated agreements with industry and the B.C. Government on revenue sharing and shared decision making, and helped to permanently protect the Sacred Headwaters region of British Columbia from resource development. Read more about Annita’s work.
Eric J. Quaempts is director of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation department of natural resources and a Yakama tribal member who has shown visionary leadership integrating traditional ecological and cultural knowledge with scientific practice. Building on almost 30 years of experience as a wildlife biologist, he has restructured his department around First Foods — water, salmon (fish), deer (large land mammals), cous (roots), and berries — which are deeply ingrained in tribal traditions and rituals. This has resonated with tribal community members, their partners, United States Tribes, federal and state agencies, and other indigenous communities, from Washington to Australia and Chile. Read more about Eric’s work.
Roy Sampsel (Choctaw/Wyandotte) (1941 – 2017) has made contributions to indigenous governance and environmental stewardship at the highest levels of the United States federal government. In rising to Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, he worked on tribal rights protection and natural resource management and implementation of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Act. He also led the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Roy recently stepped down as Director of the Institute for Tribal Government at Portland State University and today is president of a Portland natural resources consulting firm. Read more about Roy’s work.
Arthur Williams Sterritt (Gitga’at) has fought tirelessly for protection and sustainable prosperity for the Great Bear Rainforest coastal region of British Columbia. His many leadership roles have included Chief Negotiator for the Gitga’at First Nation, Treaty Commissioner, Executive Director of the Gitga’at Development Corporation, and co-founder and Executive Director of the Coastal First Nations: Great Bear Initiative. Art is also an accomplished artist specializing in painting screens and woodcarving. Read more about Art’s work.
Delores Ann Pigsley (Siletz), Awardee
Nora Dauenhauer (Tlingit) (1927 – 2017)
Chief Adam Dick (Kawadillikall Clan of the Dzawatainuk Tribe of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation) (1929 – 2018)
Wayne Warren Don (Cup’ig/Yupik)
Chuck Sams (Cocopa)
W. Ron Allen (Jamestown S’Klallam), Awardee
Robi Michelle Craig (Kiks.adi Clan, Steel House, Tlingit)
Leaf Hillman (Karuk)
Chief Robert Simeon Pasco (Nlaka’pamux Nation)
Shawn E. Yanity (Stillaguamish)